• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Wednesday 19th June, 2013

Does childcare really harm kids? Maybe it’s time to stop panicking

strong>With more mothers at work, many young children spend their days in nursery schools or with friends or relatives. Some commentators worry that preschool time away from mom or dad is storing up trouble for these kids. But a recent study found no such evidence.The research, drawing on three years of data on around 13,000 British children, finds that children in childcare did just as well overall on cognitive tests as similar kids at home – and children of mothers with low education actually did better than their peers.“In general, children who were in any form of child care during infancy experienced less risk on almost all observed child, family, and maternal characteristics, compared to those in parental care,” say the research team, led by Sylvana Côté of the University of Montreal.Center-based vs. informal childcare Of course, not all childcare is created equal. The study found that children who were in center-based care at nine months did better on cognitive tests at age three and five than similar children who were in informal care, although children in informal care had caught up on tests by age seven. Moreover, the cognitive benefits of center-based care were particularly large for children whose mothers had low levels of education. These findings suggest that center-based settings are more likely than informal care to develop children’s cognitive abilities. Informal care is usually based around family members, such as grandparents, and normally takes place in a “home environment” that encourages free play. Center-based child-care is typically more formal and focused on groups of children of a similar age. This means that activities and games are aimed at children’s developmental capacity, which encourages cognitive growth. Children who attend center-based child-care are able to experience a more school-like setting that promotes learning.Even though center-based care was associated with better outcomes than informal care, the research found that children who were in any type of non-parental care at nine months did just as well on the tests as similar children who were in their parents’ care. And the research found that children of mothers with low education benefited from attending any form of child-care.In summary, the research found that childcare during early infancy did not have a negative cognitive effect on children. Attachment and familyThese results are important given ongoing concerns that infants should not be separated from their mothers. The root of this concern is in attachment theory, which argues that a child’s bond with his or her mother creates healthy development. Studies examining the role of childcare services on development have generally found mixed results. In previous research, negative effects are sometimes noted when mothers return to work during the first year of a child’s life. Positive effects, however, have been observed for center-based care and for care during toddlerhood. This study is consistent with other research that suggests that childcare has different effects depending on family income or parents’ education levels. It has been suggested that childcare may particularly benefit children from lower class backgrounds, as it provides opportunities and stimulation they would not typically receive. *********Reference: Cote, S. M.; Doyle, O.; Petitclerc, A.; & Timmins, L. (2013). Child Care in Infancy & Cognitive Performance Until Middle Childhood in the Millennium Cohort Study. Child Development, 1-18, DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12049

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